Who Cares About Nov. 7?

Dec. 21, 2004
You should. Manufacturing has "huge" stake in U.S. elections.

You may have heard Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush, the two major-party contenders for the White House, uncharitably described as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And some of your peers are talking about not voting. But don't tell Jon K. Hirschtick, CEO and cofounder of SolidWorks Corp., Concord, Mass., that the Nov. 7 U.S. presidential and congressional elections don't matter. Continuing an entrepreneur-friendly tax structure tops his list of election issues that senior manufacturing executives ought to be concerned about. "Even if manufacturers are not entrepreneurs themselves, they rely on a continuous stream of innovation in materials science, manufacturing methods, rapid prototyping, and manufacturing software, such as 3-D CAD. [And] all these developments in manufacturing are a result of entrepreneurship and small companies. Therefore, it is very important that the innovation environment stays strong for manufacturing companies in general," insists Hirschtick, whose company, a unit of France's Dassault Systemes SA, produces computer-aided-design software. Funding education to ensure students graduate with modern knowledge and technology skills and keeping the Internet open for business and communication also rank high with Hirschtick. For CEOs of the midsized, fast-growth U.S. companies belonging to the American Business Conference (ABC), world investment and trade flows are "very, very important items," relates Barry K. Rogstad, president of the Washington, D.C.-based group. The companies "are now positioned throughout the world. [And their CEOs] are very concerned about the nature of the interactions of global markets," he says. Like SolidWorks' Hirschtick, ABC's Rogstad believes improving U.S. education is vital. "I think there's increased recognition that the status quo isn't getting the job done," asserts Rogstad. "Gore obviously has to wrestle with the unions on this, but let's get some competition in here . . . and really [develop] better teachers," he urges. From such public-policy issues as trade, taxes, health care, and pension reform to the prospect of the next President placing three or four new justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, the stakes for the business community in the November elections are "huge," asserts Bruce Josten, senior vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington. "You have a government with a cascading [budget] surplus. And you have one presidential candidate and a party that want to spend it -- plus," observes Josten, in a disapproving reference to Gore and the Democrats. For Josten, the fundamental political question is, "How do you keep this economy growing, and prospering, and producing the wealth that we have seen it produce in the past decade-plus?" At the National Assn. of Manufacturers, also in Washington, senior vice president Michael Baroody says, "We can't afford to sit things out. . . . What we're for is more growth. [But] there are people on the other side of a lot of these [campaign issues] who are for more government." Noting that Gore "wants to increase spending a lot" and Bush "supports a big tax decrease," the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington-based group that includes former manufacturing CEOs Roy L. Ash and Peter G. Peterson, worries that neither of the major candidates' economic and budget plans ultimately will add up. Current 10-year projections for trillion-dollar-plus federal budget surpluses are "guestimates at best," the panel cautions. "Thus, the most important question for both candidates is this: What are your plans if the surpluses are not as large as projected, or if your program costs more than your plans suggest?"

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